Day 78: Shenandoahs, Part IV
Sorry I’m Late
Internet has been a little hard to come by in the Shenandoahs, so pardon the delays in posting. I seem to get decent cell coverage when I’m walking the ridges, but the gaps and campgrounds erratically vacillate between SOS-mode and one bar. I always post a day or two behind our actual location for safety reasons, but I’m a little further behind than usual.
I’m also behind on responding to comments. I’ll catch up on our next zero day. I always appreciate the feedback and encouragement. And I almost always value the admonitions, if only for something to brood about during the more tedious parts of the day.
I’m not only behind on blogging, I’m also behind on where I thought I’d be by now. Yesterday marked 12 weeks on the trail. I’ve been out here almost three months and I’m not halfway. I know the first month mileage tends to be lower than the middle months, but I think my June gets most of the blame.
I logged 11 zero (no trail miles) and four nero (a near zero) days in June, none of which were intentional rest days. If I’d walked only ten miles on those off days, I’d be Pennsylvania eating a half-gallon of ice cream.* If I’d pushed hard on those off days, I’d be counting New Jersey bears.
Northstar and I enjoyed our night at Skyland Resort, mostly for the hot shower and all-night air conditioning. As for the rest, the resort was exactly what I expected of someplace run by the federal government – priceless location, overpriced rooms and food, aging infrastructure, and exceptionally lousy customer service. Our dinner bordered on awful but offered a great view.
I especially appreciated being able to let Northstar sleep in while I slipped out extra early at 6:00 a.m. to try to beat the heat and humidity on a 20-mile day. I didn’t have particularly big climbs or descents, just a lot of miles and not a lot of points of interest to serve as intermediate goals to help break up the day. Instead, I used the road crossings to measure my progress.
I also left early hoping to see some bears near the resort, but once again, the bears must have been off doing what bears do in the woods. Eat berries, that is. They left all the berries along the trail for me. The deer, however, continued to clog up the trail. I’ve stopped taking pictures of them and now just hike past saying, “ ‘ello, dear” in a British accent. Yeah, they don’t think that’s very funny either. But you might after 78 days alone in the woods.
A mile out of Skyland Resort, just after sunrise, I saw three people walking towards me. The lead hiker wore a Woodsy Owl Ranger outfit and carried a fancy camera with a long lens. Okay, not an actual Woodsy Owl Ranger uniform, but the kind of clothes LL Bean thinks forest rangers wear.
Next came a young woman, who couldn’t have been more than 18 years old, wearing white silky knee length shorts and a brightly colored silk zipper jacket (pink and blue, maybe?). A young man in a full black tuxedo carrying a bouquet of colorful flowers brought up the rear.
Obviously, they were returning from a sunrise wedding proposal photoshoot. I grinned at them and almost called out, “Congratulations!” but then decided from the grim looks on their faces that it might not have gone as planned. My son has a similar wedding proposal story… stories… so I kept my mouth shut. Hopefully, she said yes, and only the drizzle and early hour were to blame for their sad faces.
Sunrise at Little Stony Man Cliffs
The sunrise couldn’t be blamed for a bad proposal photo. The stormy weather made for an exceptionally dramatic sunrise, which I caught as I passed the cliffs before Mary’s Rock. Dark clouds lay just above the deep red, orange, dark blue horizon. Gray and white clouds interspersed with thin patches of blue sky swept skyward, tracing out wild patterns and the motion of the atmospheric winds. If the skies offered any kind of omen, that young couple’s marriage will be an epic adventure.
For me, the sunrise, cliffs, and open woods provided possibly the best view on the entire AT. So far. I walked with a lively breeze most of the morning, which kept the humidity at bay and almost dried out my clothes still damp from yesterday’s hot yoga hike.
Camping With 32 Feet Up
When I passed the first shelter after Skyland Resort, I saw the 32 Feet Up family packing up. I heard them about a quarter mile before that. The kids were having a blast, and like most kids, blasted their excitement. Soco and two other hikers my age told me they planned to camp at that shelter, but I didn’t see any of them in the midst of the family’s semi-controlled chaos. They must have gotten out early or moved on. I was curious how camping next to 15 kids went.
I passed one of the older hikers later that morning. Since we’d met twice before, and he hadn’t been particularly extroverted, this time I introduced myself. Our dialogue went something like this:
- Me: Hi, I’ve seen you three days in a row. I guess I should introduce myself. I’m The Incident.
- Guy: Oh.
- Me: Uh, and what’s your name?
- Guy: Pete (I’m using an alias for him).
- Me: Hi, Pete. Is that your trail name?
- Pete: I use my real name.
- Me: Have you seen Soco today? I was hoping to catch him again.
- Pete: He left early.
- Me: He was going to camp at the shelter back there. Is that where you camped? With the 32 Feet Up family?
- Pete: Yeah.
- Me: How was it camping with all those kids? Did you get a chance to meet them?
- Pete: It was okay.
From this exchange, I concluded that camping with 32 Feet Up was “okay.” And that Pete is not much of a storyteller.
Ending the Day with a Bang
The rest of the day turned into a humid hike through the long green tunnel. The Elk Wallow Wayside provided a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel, though I decided I was a little smash-burgered out today. I did have room for another blackberry milkshake.
Service was predictably slow, so by the time I got served and walked back outside to fetch my pack, storm clouds had moved in and brought rumblings of thunder. I geared up and took the shake with me back into the woods, but barely made it across Skyline Drive before it started raining.
One of the nice things about the long green tunnel is that the trees intercept the rain, as long as it doesn’t rain too hard or too long. With only two miles to go to the van, I hoped I might just beat out a soaking. Nope and nope.
It rained buckets. But it felt great. The rain washed off most of today’s sweat and some of yesterday’s. By the time I’d finished my milkshake, my shoes were squishing out little jets of water with every step and my clothes were plastered to my body. When I got to the last short climb, the sun popped out, but the rain kept coming. So, I walked in rain and sun, whistling all the rain songs I could remember until I saw Northstar and the van at a turnout.
Odds and Ends
- I logged 20 miles in eight hours. At that pace, a 30-miler would take me at least 12 hours. I’ve done my share of 12-hour hikes, but never on a daily basis. That’s a long time on my feet.
- I passed a Boy Scout Troop on an end-to-end hike through the Shennies. They all wore matching pink shirts. Except for two of them who claimed their shirts stunk. Ten minutes later, I passed two rather overweight leaders struggling up the climb, which reminded me of every Scout hike I ever did.
- I also saw a family with four kids doing a ten-day end to end hike. When I told them they were about to meet the 32 Feet Up family, they were pretty excited, having followed them on social media.
- Two days ago, I saw a barefoot backpacker walking along Skyline Drive during our drive to the campground. After I passed, I realized I should have stopped to see if it was Homemade, the barefooter who made all his own gear.
- Start: Skyland Resort (Mile 934.5)
- End: Matthews Arm Campground (Mile 954.4)
- Weather: Cool, cloudy, & breezy. Then drizzle and clouds. Then blue sky. Then torrential rain.
- Earworm: Graceland (Paul Simon). Country Road, Take Me Home
- Meditation: Mt 24-25.
- Plant of the Day: Wild Hydrangea
- Best Thing: Blackberry Milkshake
- Worst Thing: Slow Wayside service.
*The halfway point at Pennsylvania’s Pine Grove Furnace State Park is typically celebrated by the “half gallon challenge,” in which hikers attempt to eat a half-gallon of ice cream in a half hour.
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